Can agricultural extension services, designed to bridge agricultural research outputs with farmers, offer a model for making science understandable to society at large?
A session at ESOF 2010 pondered over what works in agricultural extension and why.
Panelists concurred that agricultural extension helps farmers put scientific knowledge into contexts they are familiar with. Pierre Labarthe from the National Institute for Agricultural Research (NRA), France, explained that “agricultural extension services are linked to universities in various countries and are created as a bridge between science and practical inputs for farmers. Each country has varying capacities to access and use scientific knowledge, but all of them need a clear picture on scientific production and the actual limits of the validity of the research outcomes.”
The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), for example, found the cost of fertilisers was hobbling farmers’ productivity in Africa. So extension services are geared to advise on the use of locally available organic fertilisers, says IFPRI scientist Kristin Davis.
Farmers need to know how they can work at optimum levels in changing climate conditions, and how to adhere to food safety standards, she adds.
Moussa N’Dienor, scientist at the Institute of Research for Development, Senegal, points out that farmers are additionally having to address land and water management issues, as well as coping with the high competition and stringent quality requirements of international markets.
The snag is that, unlike large international research structures, rural advisory services are suffering from declining national support; and lack direction regarding investment priorities and evidence-based policy recommendations. The Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services, launched in January 2010, seeks to address some of these gaps.
The forum’s launch coincides with renewed interest in agricultural extension or advisory services that comes in the wake of rising food prices; renewed government and donor interest in agricultural and related advisory services; and a broad global commitment to restructure agriculture development institutions.
Marianne de Nazareth, SciDev.Net contributor